“Would you like to see what you got me for Christmas?”

Starting this time of year, this is the refrain in my home. I am a gift person. My husband is … not. I love selecting, buying, and wrapping gifts. He … doesn’t. I could blame the hectic Advent schedule at church (he’s clergy), but the same situation plays itself out again on Mother’s Day and my birthday in July. He is otherwise without major flaws and he’s easy on the eyes, and so I’ve kept him around. We’ve adjusted by developing a new system in which I get what I like for myself, wrap it, and open it on Christmas morning. This means there aren’t very many surprises for me. This is the very definition of a First World Problem, if it’s a problem at all. I’ll take it.

And so, imagine my surprise when my parents told me that they were moving to our neighborhood, from almost a thousand miles away. To our neighborhood. From four states away. They want to be close to their grandchildren. They want to help. They are selling their house and moving to an apartment three blocks away from the rectory that we call home. They are leaving friends and familiarity for us. For me.

I have not quite absorbed what this gift means for my family. It feels very much too good to be true for this pessimist who is always waiting for the other shoe to drop. I don’t want to jinx it. For months before the move, I called them at least once a week to say, “Are you sure?” And also: “can you watch the kids during the first week of January when they’re still on break?” And: “thank you.” And again: “are you sure?”

“Thank you” seems woefully inadequate. This is not a gift that I can purchase for myself, wrap in festive paper, and tuck under the tree. This gift was not available on Black Friday or Cyber Monday. This is a not a gift I knew I needed until it announced that it was arriving.

It would be tempting, right here, to compare this extraordinary gift, this surprise, this embarrassment of riches, to the infant Jesus in the manger. I don’t deserve my parents’ kind and generous gift of moving, just like I don’t deserve salvation. There’s no good way for me to adequately thank my parents, or thank God. Those things are all true. And my parents’ move might be just the glimpse of grace I need to get through the next few years of sandwich generation middle-aged working motherhood.

But I’m not so naive that I think that this gift will solve all of my problems. It’ll likely create a few new ones, because let’s face it, we’re all humans. Nor would I be so cruel as to ignore that their move away will be painful for the ones they’ve left behind. I’m both sad for them and grateful for their understanding. And as much of a pain it is to move cross country, as far as I know, my parents aren’t planning to climb up on a cross to save me from my own sins. They hardly ever bring up that coffee table I broke by standing on it thirty years ago. They are pretty great, but they are decidedly not Jesus. (Also, not even Jesus would leave as many effusive comments as my dad does under my Mockingbird posts.)

But like the gift of Christmas, I don’t have any adequate way to say thank you. I start to think about how grateful I am, and my chest bubbles up and I don’t even have words without feeling wrecked with emotion. It’s rare that I’m at a loss for words, but I find myself clamming up and buying another gift card to put in their Christmas stocking. I’m inadequate to the task of thanking them for this wonderful, unexpected gift. My great-grandmother used to say, “Folks can stand anything but the good times.” In the bad times, we know what to do: band together, help each other out, complain. In the good times, we don’t know what to do with our gratitude. We tend to rise up and bind together during bad times, but the times of good fortune leave us with palms upturned and shoulders shrugged. What do I do with good news, especially when I love to complain?

I heard a wonderful sermon on Psalm 126 recently, given by The Rev. David Wantland at Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church in Houston, Texas:

In a world enamored with choice and progress,
Our worship is frustratingly repetitive.
And it’s not because we don’t have anything else to say
Or do about God and all the rest.
It’s because there
is
nothing better to do or say
than to face the profound ills of this world,
To feel the uncertainty that permeates our lives,
And to say,
Amidst it all,
“The Lord has restored the fortunes of Zion,
And the Lord will do it again.”
Or, in those oft-repeated words of our liturgy,
“Christ has died,
Christ is risen,
Christ will come again.”
It is for this simple,
repetitive,
foolish proclamation
That this community gathers….”

I still haven’t figured out how to even begin to thank my parents for their generous gift. I mean, they seem pretty jazzed about the Costco membership I bought them, but I don’t have words.

I don’t really have words for the gift of Jesus at Christmas, either. We listened to the entirety of Handel’s Messiah on our Thanksgiving road trip this year (#sorrynotsorry Advent police). As much as I love it (and I really, really love it), it’s not enough to describe just how magnificent this gift is. And so, my family and I, now plus two grandparents, will make our way to church this Advent to say thank you with the same words and hymns that our mothers and foremothers said and sang before us. With this “frustratingly repetitive” worship, surrounded by Sarum Blue vestments and the heady scent of incense, I’ll say thank you in the only way I know how.